Moral Amnesia on the National Debt

Watching Meet the Press on NBC the last two Sundays, I found the Moral Amnesia of  guests Representative  Paul Ryan and Senator Mike Lee, both Tea party members, so astonishing and morally vacuous. Here are two champions of Deficit Cutting who speak with almost complete amnesia about how the deficits were amassed – they are massive and deliberate Republican deficits:

U.S. president? Party? Term years? Start debt/GDP? End debt/GDP? Debt Rise ? Debt/GDP%
Roosevelt/Truman D 1945–1949 117.5% 93.1% $5oB 24.4%
Harry Truman D 1949–1953 93.1% 71.4% $10B -21.7%
Dwight Eisenhower R 1953–1957 71.4% 60.4% $10B -11.0%
Dwight Eisenhower R 1957–1961 60.4% 55.2% $20B -5.2%
Kennedy/Johnson D 1961–1965 55.2% 46.9% $30B -8.3%
Lyndon Johnson D 1965–1969 46.9% 38.6% $50B -8.3%
Richard Nixon R 1969–1973 38.6% 35.6% $70B -3.0%
Nixon/Ford R 1973–1977 35.6% 35.8% $190B +0.2%
Jimmy Carter D 1977–1981 35.8% 32.5% $280B -3.3%
Ronald Reagan R 1981–1985 32.5% 43.8% $660B +11.3%
Ronald Reagan R 1985–1989 43.8% 53.1% $1.04T +9.3%
George H. W. Bush R 1989–1993 53.1% 66.1% $1.40T +15.0%
Bill Clinton D 1993–1997 66.1% 65.4% $1.18T 0.7%
Bill Clinton D 1997–2001 65.4% 56.4% $450B 9.0%
George W. Bush R 2001–2005 56.4% 63.5% $1.73T +7.1%
George W. Bush R 2005–2009 63.4% 83.4% $2.63T +20.0%

US National debt as a % of GDP declined drastically under Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson. The first uptick in the past 60 years was tiny [0.2%] under Nixon and declined again under Jimmy Carter. But during Ronald Reagan’s two term tenure US National Debt as % of GDP sky rocketed by 11% and then 9% in respective terms in office.

This result was because of Reagan’s near treasonous “Starve the Beast’  philosophy[deliberately overspend in order to  later force the issue of cutbacks when the debt gets out of control – see here]. Under George H.W.Bush the increase in National Debt was even greater at 15%. Then under Bill Clinton the National Debt declined by 0.7 % and 9% in his two terms. Clinton was also responsible for instituting the  policy of Pay As You Go – increases in spending had to be offeset by decreases in spending elsewhere or tax increases. But under George W. Bush,  Pay As You Go was abandoned and the National Debt hockey-stick upwards seeing huge  increases of 7.1% and then 20%.

In sum, the last three Republican Presidents have been the irresponsible sources of the largest increases of the US National Debt by far.

Senators Ryan and Lee have total amnesia about this. This hypocritical forgetting of who and which Party got the US into its Debt crisis is deliberate. It relies on tthe electorate and GOP insiders having no memory nor scruples. The deliberate hypocrisy is best epitomized by Republican consultant Mike Murphy. When asked on Meet the Press how would he have the GOP run in the  upcoming Presidential election, Murphy said he would tout the Republican party’s ability to run the business of government better than the Tax and Spend Democrats.

But this moral amnesia is deliberate  and linked to a policy of deliberate goverment sabotage. The next step has been  a deliberate “Cripple the Beast” strategy. The most telling example is Tea Party and Republican members arguing that ” Government is not working” citing the failure of regulatory agencies such as MMC[the Gulf well blow out, West Virgina mining disaster], the SEC and other Financial regulatory agencies[blamed for being largelyresponsible for the Financial Meltdown], the FDA [for over-regulating and missing some big drug scandals like Vioxx], the EPA [for over-regulating especially on climate control], and others.  But under George W. Bush there was a systematic campaign to underfund, politicize and effectively dismantle a broad swath of regulatory agencies – see The War Against Regulation . The GOP set up the preconditions for “the government not working”.

Now the campaign is to broadly discredit government and their “unionized workers”. Against Obama the “Cripple the Beast” campaign is now to show that regulatory agencies as well as  health and  welfare  services cannot  be delivered effectively. So there has been deliberate delays in scores of key Obama appointments some continuing into the 2nd and 3rd years in office. Likewise,under the guise of  deficit cuts , the agencies that have new responsibilities have no funds to hire the manpower or administer their services. So again, Republicans can say  “government is not working”, “its costing us billions in waste”, now that we have Starved the Beast, lets kill it off by getting rid of  programs.

This deliberate “Cripple the Beast” strategy, the killing stroke which  “Starve the Beast”  is predicated on – this is one of the principle causes of distrust and partisan rancor in Washington. It fosters  nasty blame games – and the result is that Congress has  sustained the lowest approval rating in the past 50 years. And so repeated calls by the electorate to work effectively, has GOP  less committed to that notion for its own perceived gain – it  can successfully apply moral amnesia plus “you can fool some of the people all of the time” for its own political gain regardless of the risk to the country. “Starve the Beast” has become “Cripple and Kill the Beast”.

But this is  where and why  the US  has started to  lose World ranking and standing substantially. First, the US in the past 30 years of ” Starve the Beast” has become second rate  in education, health [be patient, the data are very good], and the ability to create manufacturing  jobs and business opportunity.  It has fallen from 1st to 10th in the Legatum Prosperity Index in 3 years. At the same time problems in the world are coming fast and furious. The Middle East, two wars, North Korea, Global Climate Change, Energy Costs and Self Sufficiency, loss of jobs to developing countries – the list is long, the problems are complex. The US can ill afford any “Cripple the Beast” or “Starve the Beast” nonsense. But  with Moral Amnesia  and Cripple the Beast,  Republicans appear determined to take the risks of sustained irrationality to the limits – they  are playing Chicken with US prosperity and well being.